World cannot ignore the masses made homeless by disasters amid a warming planet
Andrew Bruce says as natural disasters affecting Asia and the Pacific become more frequent and more intense, climate-induced migration must be part of our adaptation toolkit
The numbers don’t lie. Disasters are on the rise in Asia and the Pacific and they are affecting more and more people. In 2014, some 16.7 million people had to leave their homes due to disasters like floods, typhoons and earthquakes.
Not only are disasters affecting more people, they are also more frequent and more severe. Sea-level rise, coastal erosion, desertification and storm surges tend to hit the poor hardest.
Examples are everywhere, from the South Asian cities spilling into the sea to the shanty towns clinging to the sides of mountains. Asia and the Pacific represent topographical diversity at its best, and with this comes vulnerability to a range of events. As the climate changes, these natural hazards will increase in frequency and intensity, affecting migration flows.
Nobody wants to see entire nations uprooted but we have to face the unpleasant truth: relocation has to be part of our adaptation strategies, backstopped by compassion and kindness.
The nexus between migration, environment and climate change has taken time to come to the fore. A negative tendency when reflecting on this topic is to emphasise forced migration. However, mobility should be viewed from a wider perspective. Allowing the option of migration implies that those living in vulnerable areas can move away from risks. Relocation of communities in outer islands in the Pacific to central atolls is evidence of this.
The inclusion of the terms “climate-induced migration”, and “planned relocation” in the 2010 UN climate change conference agreement in Cancun was instrumental in bridging human mobility and climate change adaptation. More research has since been conducted on how migration acts as a means to livelihood diversification; and how the transfer of remittances, skills and knowledge from migrant communities benefit countries vulnerable to climate change. Many have now begun to see the thousands of migrants from the region who send back remittances as potential resources that could be leveraged in addressing this gigantic challenge.
As negotiations on the outcome document of the Paris climate summit proceed, a few countries such as Bangladesh have tried hard to keep human mobility in the text. We need to strive for the inclusion of mobility in the legally binding agreement forged in Paris. This will then form an important basis for discussions on how to address the migration challenges arising out of climate change, including those being experienced across Asia at this very moment.
Andrew Bruce is the regional director of the International Organisation for Migration’s Asia-Pacific office, based in Bangkok